Fears

“The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Fear visits everyone. But make your fear a visitor and not a resident.” – Max Lucado

I prayed my fears would go away. Then I thought of those that were logical to keep. And a couple of others that I didn’t know who I’d be without. I realized that my fears had become my friends. They are terrible friends!

“They all have to go. Lord, deliver me from fear, from anxiety. I mean it this time. I want to live a life of faith – reflected by calm, peace, serene acceptance, trusting you for everything, with everything, always.”

Is that what you want, too? A heart at rest? A mind at ease? I think we all acknowledge there are things to be afraid of, but most of what plagues us are fears we have that are irrational, unnecessary. Those are the ones that have to go. How? By recognizing that they come from our own insecurities, not from God. By focusing on God and all the promises of his love, care, protection, and peace. Fear is a big motivation to pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

It takes practice to do that, and I’m not there yet, but as long as we engage in the struggle for faith big enough to overcome fear, we’re not defeated. We leave room for God to work and for his great love to overcome our human fears. Faith and fear are uneasy companions, and faith defeats fear every time. Let’s not give up our quest for internal peace! It can be ours.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – Jesus to his disciples in John 14:27

Grace: Not Just a Little, but a Lot

“A man may have too much money, or too much honour, but he cannot have too much grace . . . Thou needest much; seek much, and have much.” – C. H. Spurgeon

God is overflowingly generous. In fact, in The Message, John 1:16 reads this way, “We all live off his generous abundance, gift after gift after gift.” We cannot count the number of gifts God gives us – and they keep coming.

John tells us “He gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). He doesn’t parcel out a little bit of the Spirit. He gives all of him to all of us who ask (Luke 11:13).

All of this is about grace. Grace is God showing his favor toward us – just because he wants to and can, not because we are worthy of it. In fact, he shows more grace when we are less worthy: Paul found God’s grace was perfected when he was weakest (2 Corinthians 12:9). James tells us God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). When we can’t do something, God can. When we recognize our need, he intervenes with grace.

And not just a little grace. We read about the early Christians meeting together daily, taking care of each other’s needs, and telling others about the resurrection. Then we read, ” . . . and great grace was upon them all.” Not just grace, but great grace.

Do we need it? Yes! Do we recognize it when it comes? Sometimes. Let’s be on the lookout for God’s generous grace in our lives today. He loves it when we notice.

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.” – 1 Peter 5:10

Holy Bewilderment

It is not that the Annunciation leads Mary out of doubt and into faith; it is that her encounter with the angel leads her out of certainty and into holy bewilderment. Out of familiar spiritual territory and into a lifetime of pondering, wondering, questioning, and wrestling.” —Debie Thomas

We like to think of faith is an assured confidence – and often it is. There are other times, though, when stepping out in faith leads to what Debie Thomas called “holy bewilderment”.

Mary was chosen to be part of the turning point of history – the time when God would enter this world as a baby and grow up to be the God-man who would sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. I’m sure Mary had expectations when she learned she would bear God’s son, but confusion set in as the story unfolded. She didn’t anticipate so much suffering, rejection, pain, and uncertainty. But all of that was part of the journey she set out on when she said “yes” to God.

In this Christmas season are you finding yourself “pondering, wondering, questioning, and wrestling”? Don’t despair. This is part of living a life of faith. If we could see how our story ends or could understand what to make of our quandaries, it wouldn’t be faith.

What did Mary do with her bewilderment? She went to see her older cousin Elizabeth. Maybe we, too, can find someone a little further down the road than we are in the life of faith and get some good counsel. We, too, can develop a life of prayer as Mary doubtless had already. We, too, can do the next right thing day-by-day until we begin to understand God’s plan. That’s what faith means – trusting God even when we’re full of questions.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

He wants to be found.

“When your world is rocked, you don’t want philosophy or theology as much as you want the reality of Christ.” – Lee Strobel

If you’ve ever lost track of a young child, your concern moves to panic pretty quickly as you search for him.

When I read about Joseph and Mary trekking back to Nazareth with their neighbors and extended family after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, I think of that sense of panic. They had walked for an entire day before they realized 12-year-old Jesus wasn’t with them. They apparently assumed he was part of the Nazareth group, hanging out with friends or cousins as they walked.

Of course, the story ends well. They go back to Jerusalem, then spend a day in the city searching for him before they find him in the Temple discussing theology with the religious leaders.

What struck me, though, is that Jesus was missing and they didn’t know it. If Jesus went missing on us, how long would it be before we noticed? That won’t happen, of course, because Jesus has promised never to leave us, but too often we live as though he has walked away. We forget to talk to him, to ask him for guidance, or to thank him for his goodness to us.

The reality is that sometimes his presence is so real we feel we can reach out and touch him. At other times, we’re not sure he even hears our prayers. The life of faith enables us to believe his promise never to leave us and, when it feels like he’s far away, he can be found.

Jesus has not gone missing. He’s here. He’s close. He’s waiting for us to reach out to him. He wants to be found.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – 1 Chronicles 16:11

Feeling loved?

“How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?” – Philip Yancey

Do you remember the feeling of euphoria when you first fell in love?

I think being in love is a picture of what God feels about us every day. He loves us just as we are, not just on our good days, but every single day. He loved us before we were born and will never stop.

The prophet Daniel, a Judean captive serving the Babylonian king, was praying for his people, pleading for God act on their behalf. While he prayed, the angel Gabriel appeared telling Daniel he had come to give him insight into the things he was praying about. And he gave the reason: “. . . I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (Daniel 9:23a). Can you imagine an angel saying to you that he showed up because you were greatly loved – by God?

Maybe we don’t hear it from an angel, but, if I’m reading my Bible correctly, we are as greatly loved as Daniel was. John tells how Jesus loved his disciples. Jesus declares his love for them, too, and for the whole world. Even before Jesus’ time, God said many times how much he loves his own people.

So why don’t we feel the “in love” euphoria every day? Maybe because we don’t really believe it. Think about that. The one who says he loves us is the eternal truth, the God who loved us into being. We can trust him. We can love him back. He will never turn us away. Never.

 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”. – 1 John 4:16a

Some things take time.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be. – John Ortberg

David was anointed by God when he was young, tending his father’s sheep. He knew he would be king, but God had some preparation to do before that could happen.

David was brought into King Saul’s circle and, while there, became a popular public persona. Saul, though, was not impressed, and he planned ways to kill David – so much so, that David ran for his life.

It must have been frustrating moving from place to place, living sometimes in desert caves, always on the alert for Saul’s armies as they chased him. But what happened to David in these intervening years?

He grew up. He went from being a young boy to being a mature man.

He became strong. He fought many battles, growing in courage and confidence.

He learned to lead. There were 600 men who became his defenders. They were described as bitter, in-debt, and distressed. But they were loyal to David, and he led them to become more than they ever dreamed they could be – God’s ragtag army.

He became discerning. There were two times David did not take an opportunity to kill Saul. He knew there was a better way and was willing to wait for God’s plan. His actions show wisdom and spiritual understanding.

God didn’t waste the desert years in David’s life and he won’t waste yours either. If you are waiting for God’s next move, be patient. Know that he is using this time to prepare you for what is yet to come. Trust his grace.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” – Psalm 130:5

The Gift of Hope

“I claim the gift of hope. I have hope, not in the glorious achievements of man, but in the ever-glorious providence of God.” – Dwight Longenecker

I like to pride myself in being an optimist – you know the “glass half-full” kind of person. You, too? Optimists are surely more fun to be around than pessimists!

But in a world full of problems that seem unsolvable, optimism falls short. It usually is unrealistic and is ineffective in addressing the challenges of life. Instead, I suggest we turn to hope. Not the weak, “I hope so” kind, but a strong biblical hope based solely on the providence of our almighty, all-loving God. It’s a hope that is an assurance God will act, good will come, and justice will prevail, even though we may have to wait for its complete fulfillment. If our hope is based on biblical promises, what we hope for is as real as the ground we walk on.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul assigns hope with faith and love as the three main values that endure. Why, I wonder? I think because faith is needed to access hope. When we learn to trust God’s promises and his character, we will be filled with hope. With that in place, what can we do but love him and love others? Godly hope energizes love because we know we are and will be taken care of – there is enough of God’s provision for everyone. Hopeful people are loving people.

Once we get a taste of that kind of hope, we realize the shallowness of mere optimism. Hope based on God’s providence is not optimism. It’s reality.

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5

Enduring

“I’ll lift you and you lift me, and we’ll both ascend together.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

If you’ve lived very long, you’ve figured out that life’s road can be (and will be) bumpy. There are challenges around every corner it seems. We tend to think that, if God is all-loving and all-powerful, he should protect us from those challenges, smooth out the path under our feet. Make it a straight line – and an easy way.

Having lived in the Rocky Mountains for a few years, I learned that the most difficult treks can be the most beautiful. The twists and turns have great surprises along the way. The climbs and curves slow us down enough to see the views, the wildflowers, and the wildlife that would be a blur on a long, straight path where we can speed along at our best pace.

God knows we would prefer an easy way. But sometimes he has a bigger purpose for us than ease (that restfulness will come only in the life to come). There are periods in our life for slowing, for thinking things through, for relying on another traveler to help us get past the rough spots, and for simply trusting God. None of that happens when everything is easy.

What do we do if we are on a rocky part of the road right now – and maybe it’s been challenging for a long time, with no smooth path in sight yet? We endure. We go a step at a time. We ask for help from someone near. And we cling to the promise that God is producing something good in us as we take courage and keep on keeping on.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped.” – Psalm 28:7

Half a Mile Ahead

I never see God. I seldom run into visual clues that remind me of God unless I am looking. The act of looking, the pursuit itself, makes possible the encounter. ” – Philip Yancey

When we traveled to Israel a few years ago, we learned to stay close to our guide. We literally would have been lost without her!

Given that experience, it was interesting to read in the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 6) that God gave different instructions. He wanted the people to follow the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but they were to follow more than half a mile behind. Not up close, but quite a distance away. That meant they might lose sight of the Ark or the view might be obstructed. I know I would have wanted to be a lot closer to those leaders. It’s more comfortable to follow by sight than by faith!

It made me think about life. There are times when we’re on a path we believe God placed us on, but we’ve lost sight of him, or we’re not understanding his guidance as clearly as we’d hoped. We begin to question whether we’re even on the right path. And, on really bad days, we’re afraid he’s forgotten us. He hasn’t! He’s sometimes half a mile out front making sure everything’s ready when we get there.

God’s not as far away as we think. He may be out of sight, but he’s still leading. We need to follow and trust. We’ll probably see him around the next bend.

 “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2b-3

Something new?

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C. S. Lewis

Are you facing something new in your life? A new relationship? Job? Baby? Class? Diagnosis? Neighborhood?

After Moses’ death, the Israelites were facing something new, too. They had been in the desert for 40 years and now were were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River just waiting to cross and begin to claim the land God had promised. Joshua recognizes how scary this might be when he said, “you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3:4b)

There was a new leader to follow, a new river to cross, new land to take over, and new cultures to understand. So, God tells them, through Joshua, that he will show them the way. They just have to follow the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

When we face something new in our lives, don’t we feel like that? We have left behind something familiar and comfortable. We haven’t done this thing before. How can we do it right? How can we succeed? Joshua’s message brings us comfort knowing that God realizes our fears. He knows we haven’t passed this way before, but he knows the way and tells us just to follow him.

And following God always brings the unexpected. The next thing the Israelites saw was the priests stepping into the Jordan River which was overflowing its banks. The rushing water stopped and the people were given a path through to the other side.

If we want a full life, we sometimes have to let go of the old path and turn to the new. God will lead us and may have a few surprises along the way. Just ask Joshua!

“You have made known to me the path of life.” – Psalm16:11a